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First Harmful Algal Bloom of the Season

A few weeks out from Memorial Day, Long Island has seen our first HAB of the summer

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has had to temporarily close a portion of western Shinnecock Bay to harvesting shellfish due to red tide.  The red tide is caused by a toxic algae called Alexandrium which produces saxitoxin, a dangerous neurotoxin that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans. Right now, 1,600 acres are closed for shellfishing. To learn more red tide, check out our previous blog post.

Red tide has appeared in Long Island waters for over a decade, leading to shellfish bed closures and causing a massive die-off of turtles in the Peconic back in 2015. Red tide, like other harmful algal blooms (HABs) that plague Long Island, are caused by excessive nitrogen in our waters.  Failing sewage infrastructure, outdated septics and cesspools have continued to exacerbate our nitrogen pollution problem, but we know what we need to do to combat red tide and other HABs: Upgrade our sewage and septic systems.

After red tide was found in Northport Harbor in 2006, Northport and Centerport Harbors became the epicenter for red tide. The outdated Northport Sewage Treatment Plant was discharging excess nitrogen and other pollutants into the harbor and led to Centerport Beach being closed for seven years. However, after fighting for funding to upgrade the plant and have state-of-the-art nitrogen reduction measures, Centerport Beach was open in 2015 and Northport Harbor did not have a red tide event in five years. Unfortunately, in 2018, 500 acres of shellfish beds in Northport Harbor were closed due to the emergence of red tide.   

In the near future, we must continue to fight the emergence of these algae blooms and work to reduce Long Island's nitrogen pollution output.  In some areas, that means upgrading sewage infrastructure. For the 360,000 people in Suffolk on septics and cesspools, that means upgrading to advanced on-site systems that will remove nitrogen.  New York State dedicated $10m this year for upgrading septics in Suffolk and $1m for Nassau, and Suffolk County has approved several systems that significantly reduce nitrogen entering our groundwater. Suffolk County is offering rebates for residents who want to upgrade to an advanced on-site wastewater treatment system and have already had success with systems that have been installed. To find out more, visit Suffolk County’s Reclaim our Waters Initiative.